ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The ramifications of last year's so-called bankruptcy overhaul can still be felt throughout the nation as many consumers who were considering a petition rushed to beat the deadline, driving down filings for the first half of 2006 to their lowest level in 20 years. According to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, bankruptcy filings dropped to 272,604 for the first half of this year, compared to 868,482 filed in the first six months of 2005.

The American Bankruptcy Institute reported that filings for the first six months of this year were down 69 percent from the same time frame of 2005.

Looking specifically at the first quarter of the year, filings came in at 116,771, while filings reached 155,833 in the second quarter, reported the American Bankruptcy Institute. Comparing this year's second quarter to last year, executives said filings were down 67 percent.

Moreover, the institute said 8,944 businesses filed for bankruptcy for the first six months of 2006, down 47 percent from the prior year.

Along with fewer overall bankruptcies filed with the court systems, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said the type of bankruptcies consumers applied for shifted thanks to the new law, which set out new, stricter requirements. For instance, Chapter 13 filings represented 41 percent of all consumer filings for the first half of the year, up from 24.15 percent during the same period in 2005. On the other hand, the percentage of Chapter 7 filings declined to 59 percent from 76 percent in the prior year.

As for business filings, they came in at 4,858 for the second-quarter period, down 44 percent from the same time frame of last year. Breaking the business filings down by Chapter, the Administrative Office for U.S. Courts said 2,940 petitions were in the Chapter 7 category; 1,079 fell into the Chapter 11 segment; 99 applicants were under Chapter 12; and 729 businesses filed under Chapter 13.

Districts with the highest percentage increase in total filings for the 12-month period when compared to the previous year were:

1. District of Vermont at 11.86 percent

2. Northern District of Indiana at 10.63 percent

3. District of Alaska at 8.71 percent

4. District of the Northern Mariana Islands at 7.14 percent

5. District of Nevada at 5.98 percent

Moreover, the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts also listed the districts with the biggest decrease in filings for the 12-month period compared to the prior year. As expected, some of these districts were hit hard by the previous hurricane season and some consumers are just now starting to fully recover.

According to the Justice Department, people who filed for bankruptcy after being effected by Hurricane Katrina qualified under the "special circumstances" clause, meaning they were able to eliminate debts instead of repaying a portion, even if they had the money to reduce their obligations.

Districts with the biggest decrease in filings included:

1. Eastern District of Louisiana at 33.96 percent

2. District of Utah at 31.92 percent

3. Southern District of Georgia at 29.88 percent

4. Southern District of Alabama at 29.67 percent

5. Middle District of Georgia at 28.79 percent

Prior to the new bankruptcy law taking effect Oct. 17, 2005, filing soared, hitting 3,000-plus percentage jumps in various regions of the country, compared to traditional levels.

Although the new law drove up the number of bankruptcies as consumer rushed to beat the deadline, according to all accounts, it has been good news for dealers. While some confusion still prevails and credit counselors have complained debtors can't afford to pay for their services, the new law was designed tighten the requirements for Chapter 7 and shift much of the responsibility to debtors instead of creditors.